Could “Blazing Saddles” be made today?
The question is valid, since 1974 — when Mel Brooks’ famously raunchy Western spoof (now streaming on Hulu) — was a much different time from today. Back then, Warner Bros. executives generally were willing (despite some resistance along the way) to take a gamble on Brooks’ unfiltered brand of humor, which still was in its early phase but would get a bigger workout in subsequent years thanks to the financial success of “Saddles.”
In relating the saga of Bart (played by Cleavon Little), the unlikely lawman newly appointed to oversee the town of Rock Ridge, director Brooks and his co-writers (who included Richard Pryor) turned every Western convention they could think of on its ear. That was evident right from the opening scene, in which Bart and fellow railroad workers toiling under a glaring sun rebelled against their heartless bosses by … singing Cole Porter tunes.
Gene Wilder had profited from Brooks’ genius earlier in “The Producers,” which elevated the actor from supporting player to comedy lead, and he cemented that association further by playing the heavy-drinking gunslinger called “The Waco Kid.” His becoming Bart’s sidekick put a notable twist on the usual makeup of the “buddy” concept, and it can be lost among the many guffaws what a commentary on race that was/is.
The “Blazing” bounty of wonderful performers on hand also includes Harvey Korman (as master schemer Hedley Lamarr), Madeline Kahn (hilarious as a bored showgirl modeled on Marlene Dietrich), iconic character actor Slim Pickens (who certainly made his share of actual Westerns), Alex Karras (as the brute named Mongo) and a pre-”Magnum, P.I.” John Hillerman. And Brooks gives himself multiple roles, including the easily manipulated governor and an Indian chief who speaks Yiddish. (Hey, it’s Mel Brooks, after all.)
For all of those memorable elements, one still has to ask whether “Blazing Saddles” would be deemed too politically incorrect for the cameras to roll on it now. The answer probably would be “Yes,” in an age when the Disney studio still refuses to let “Song of the South” be exhibited in any form, even for someone to select privately via the company’s Disney+ streaming service.
Not wanting to be that incorrect prevents us from detailing the scenes we’re talking about, but anyone who knows “Blazing Saddles” certainly knows them. Thanks in part to the fact that the movie is in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, its legend will live on for generations to come, even if modern times cause some wincing to greet it.